After searching high and low for months for an image of the former Sylvania plant at 50-60 Boston Street in Blubber Hollow, the front end of Gallows Hill, been able to uncover just one, hiding in the Nelson Dionne Collection in the Salem State University Archives Flickr collection. Nelson Dionne is a local amateur historian, whose recently donated his collection of thousands of photos, restaurant menus, postcards, and other bric-a-brac to Salem State University, where they are slowly getting scanned and digitized. Some 450 items scanned so far, so SSUL still has far to go, meaning that further images of Gallows Hill and Blubber Hollow may yet turn up online.
Sylvania Employees Watch Salem Soldiers March off to World War I
The plant was built in 1916, on land left barren by the Great Salem Fire of 1914, and was then the Hygrade Lamp Company, the first firm to apply principles of assembly line manufacture to the manufacture of incandescent light bulbs. In 1931 Hygrade merged with Sylvania first forming Hygrade Sylvania, becoming in 1942 simply Sylvania Electric Products, then after a 1959 merger with General Telephone becoming GTE Sylvania. Sylvania née Hygrade was once among the largest employers in Salem, surpassed only by the Pequot Mills textile plant on the other side of Salem in The Point neighborhood.
The plant closed in 1993 following the buyout of Sylvania by Osram GmbH of Germany, and was demolished several years thereafter. After lying empty for 20+ years, construction of the Gateway Center of apartments and a new Salem Senior Center has finally begun this year on the former Hygrade site.
Returning to the photo, the orientation of the plant is along Boston Street, with Bridge Street just visible hooking off at the left and Federal Street out of view to the right, with roofs of several homes of the McIntire District partially visible beyond. The Hygrade plant would have only been a year old at the time of the photo. Hundreds of new employees hang out of windows and even stand on the roof, filled with patriotic fervor and waving to the soldiers marching along Boston Street.
The photo had to be taken from atop Proctor’s Ledge, looking east towards downtown. Most telling are the ruins in the foreground, all that remains of the Korn Leather Co. factory at 55 Boston St., the ignition site of the Great Salem Fire of 1914. Eventually replacement tanneries would fill the site, but at the time the photo the terror of the fire would have been fresh in the minds of the soldiers and all those waving them on. In their own turn the tanneries would go defunct, replaced in the 21st century by a Walgreen’s super-pharmacy, the Great Salem Fire Memorial in one corner of the Walgreen’s parking lot and the Proctor’s Ledge Witchcraft Trials Memorial in the opposite corner.